My old friend Pascal brought this story to my attention, a wonderfully simple case of two passionate engineers – Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves – connecting the dots to harness one of the most fundamental forces of the universe and make a difference to the world of billions.
Making a difference
1.5 billion people in the world have no access to electricity and rely on kerosene lamps to get light once the sun goes down. As a result, they inhale the equivalent of two packets of cigarettes a day, leading to a high rate of lung cancer. In addition, the running costs of fueling the lamps can consume 10 to 20% of their revenue. Replacing kerosene lamps with a reliable, clean, low-cost lighting solution is bound to make a difference.
May the force be with us
Of all the natural forces available for free, only one is constant: gravity. Wind drops, sun goes down, water stream dries; gravity remains without any need to pray for the force to be with us. Harnessing gravity is not a new idea: this is after all how hydroelectricity is generated or how olden days clocks used to work. Replacing the clockwork with a lighting device creates a simple gravity-powered lighting solution. The concept of GravityLight is born.
Connecting an old idea with a new technology
While clocks require very little energy and can last more than 24 hours with a single lift of the weights, lightning used to be a lot more power intensive. A gravity-powered solution that requires lifting weights every couple of minutes would not do. But the avent of LED and other highly energy efficient lights has changed the equation, enabling GravityLight to produce 30mins of light with a single lift of the weight. And with its frugal design, it is expected that GravityLight can be mass-produced for less than $5 per unit, an acquisition cost that is paid back in 3 months thanks to the saving on kerosene.
An inspiring crowdfunding story
To test GravityLight in real life, the inventors have been using crowdfunding platform indiegogo to raise $55,000 that will be invested in tooling and manufacturing of 1000 devices to be given free to villagers in Africa and India to comlect their feedback. With additional funding they will be able to accelerate research and development of the next generation of GravityLight, making it cheaper and even more energy-efficient. Crowdfunding accelerates the fund raising process: anyone who feels inspired can contribute anything from $10 to $500 in a tiny fraction of the time that would be required for any organization to look at the business case and run a funding proposal through its bureaucracy. Crowdfunding also expand the diffusion of the story by word-of-mouth, as this post itself illustrates. And more, it gives people anywhere on the planet an opportunity, in Gandhi’s words, “to be the change they want to see in the world.”
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Yann Cramer is an innovation learner, practitioner, sharer, teacher. He’s lived in France, Belgium and the UK, he’s travelled six continents to create development opportunities with customers or suppliers, and run workshops on R&D and Marketing. He writes on www.innovToday.com and on twitter @innovToday.